A butterfly in the house is a strangely magical thing, like a fairy painting over ordinary with whimsical wings. All that fluttering motion against the stasis of four walls whispers to the freedom deep within that eagerly calls back to childhood, to wonder, and to lingering play, to chasing fleeting colours on bright Summers’ days. I seek to guide them out, though their leaving is loss, but today’s snoozy Tortoiseshell won’t accept me as boss. It’s determined to move in for winter’s full duration, folding up its wings to suspend in hibernation. We’ve coaxed it from the stairs and the shelves in the hall but it won’t budge from the conservatory roof at all. No matter, now it’s safe, it’s very welcome to stay where the heating can’t confuse it that it might be May. It’s a very special guest I’m delighted we can keep – a still-winged sprite taking an enchanted beauty sleep.
Raspberries and crocuses growing in September cause Autumn to pause, and us to remember Spring and Summer as if they were still here with lost colours, tastes and warmth suddenly brought back near. This is the gorgeous, irresistible reason for growing varieties that feel out of season. For what could be more fun than time travel plants that whisk you back and forth as the year departs?
The downpipe was emanating a strange fluttering sound, so we gingerly took it apart to see what would be found. We expected a butterfly who’d somehow lost its way rather than a coal tit turned miner, tunnelling for the day. What possessed it to dive down our gutter’s water slide, it was, of course, utterly unable to confide. We set it, bedraggled and dazed, to dry out in the sun and trust it fully recovered, for later it was gone. The very next Thursday, while drinking our morning tea, what should we chance to look out the window and see but a coal tit perched on the buddleia in the pouring rain… I’m hoping, if it’s the same one, it won’t get drenched again!
The first leaves to fly are pilfered not fallen, as a moody Friday wind gustily breaks their fragile hold and seizes them for itself. Tossed up as well as down, they flicker and wheel like drunken sailor butterflies at the mercy of contradicting currents overwhelming their tiny wings. I witness the crime, caught in a snow globe of stolen tree confetti while the gasping, grasping gale thieves my breath too, and blows it who knows where.
Down where the river swells wide and greedily licks the bank in premonition and echo of flood, a brave alder stands resolute tall. A persistent survivor of constant colonising land grabs, it clings to its diminishing earth, rising on tiptoe to straddle the fleeing ground and remain balanced, poised and elegant above the fray. I think of a ballerina’s strength ascending en pointe, and applaud the beautiful struggle of the alder’s stoic dance.
I wonder which bird it was that dropped their tea in the terracotta pot under the viburnum tree? For we certainly didn’t plant a sunflower seed, and although of course I wouldn’t say it was a weed, one is flowering uninvited all the same. But as drizzle sets in, and our remaining blooms fade, it’s fabulous to find a brand new sun displayed, so we welcome it gladly though it shines out of place, a beautiful surprise; an unexpected grace.
There’s something about woodland that weaves tall tales from thin air, then embroiders them with thick undergrowth and dappled shade. Life and story blur and meld into something both and neither as the impossible trespasses into truth. Here, everything is close to being something else, shifting shape or casting shadow to wear imagination’s form as its own. Today, there’s a fallen branch emerging from the leaf mulch with a face so suggestive of snake that I hurry past its slithering before it can follow me home.
Low light polishes the river to mirror shine, projecting flying ripples on to the overhang to dance along its branches like water flames licking the wood with dappling burn, until it becomes a web of suspended tributaries rather than a solid, rooted, growing mass. I stop to enter the illusion, embrace still set elevated to cinematic motion as light pulls its playful tricks and quasi-consumes the river tree with liquid luminescence.
We didn’t know we were on a flight path, circling the reservoir at Thruscross and chatting away the afternoon. Our attention was on the water, where four Canada geese swam straight lines, transferring from the air their flair for formation to float in ordered elegance below. Then suddenly, flying low over the sharp rise of the moor, a whole skein descend in sequence with jet skiing finesse while we look up in awe as if at a festival where the Red Arrows are performing a stunt. I marvel at how close they come, their undercarriages shining bright white, as they dip just over our heads and alight with perfect precision on their glistening, rippling landing strip.
Some weekends when walking up Nidderdale’s gravel tracks, you see surprising characters out trekking in little packs. They’re singularly uninhibited and often directly stare, as if it were you that was a novelty to discover tramping there. Sometimes they stop to snack on unsuspecting wayside trees, eating with their mouths wide open despite being in company. If they do decide to smile at you, it’s a very toothy display but it brightens up the morning to meet llamas on your way!
Departed but not gone, ghost flowers linger on, echoing blooming tall despite the fade and fall of colour, petal and seed. This is an Autumn tragedy, glory reduced to parody, as brown stems still stand proud, bereft of rainbows shining loud, all their lustre lost to the wind. But still I remember their names, see them and greet them the same, for even when shrivelled and dry, they proclaim their histories gone by and promise resurrection return.
On the last spear of buddleia to still be in bloom, a flutter of tortoiseshells spends half the afternoon delicately guzzling all the nectar they can eat, drinking through proboscises but tasting with their feet. It seems impolite behaviour to display when taking tea, but butterflies use different rules to define civility.
If you want to see wild deer leaping the walls, bounding the fields, you need to be up when it’s still dark and chase the seclusion sunrise yields. You can’t control their sightings, can’t predict when they might appear, but early in the morning is when I’ve always found them here. Watchful gazes fix on you, then white bobtails glide their retreat, caught in magical gladed moments, disappearing in rustles of leaves.
Everywhere around us, with new shades appearing each day, the trees are gradually revealing their true colours again. I used to believe Autumn’s turning was all about decay until I learned the dying green is really being drawn away. How strange these pigments flaming new were really always here, covered by chlorophyll’s mastery till they all but disappeared. It’s only when strength retreats that hidden hues can shine, weakness revealing burning beauty, fragile but sublime.
In my defence, the wind started it – stealing a piece of popcorn out of my unsuspecting hand and hurling it onto the path. An explosive act detonating a debris of gulls as eye after eye sizes up our bench as the main chance. A black headed battalion lines up, swaggering and cawing like a gang of drunken louts lowering the tone of the park. I am led astray, courting their absurd strutting by scattering more provocation to keep them keen and close. My cackles grow louder than theirs, and that and the swooping flapping leads you to plead for mercy to finish your sandwich in peace. But I am hooked on hilarity and continue my mischief all the way through lunch, much to the delight of our uninvited guests.
All is murk, mizzle and gust but glinting among the drear rain dust, a perfect arc of colour suspends. And though it’s a bleary morning, I feel tinted promise dawning, long to pass under it into more. But as I advance it retreats then swiftly dissolves and depletes, leaving only dampened desire behind. Then just as I fear all is rain, stripes of light re-appear again just a little way on, up the valley. I would rather chase rainbows all day than accept the world as painted grey, so I walk on to the next arching hope.
It is common to praise the ariel displays of swallows, kestrels and kites as they paint the sky in beauty with their dances, hovers and glides. But today my sights are lower, much closer to the ground, where the weightier wood pigeon is so often to be found. Here is a true miracle of fantastic feathered flight as frantic wings whistle and flap with all their might. Somehow the pigeon is conquering the air, even though the odds seem staggeringly unfair. The din overhead carries hints of impending dread, it always seems each one might just crash land instead! The effort it takes just to clear the garden gate suggests they were designed for a walking fate, yet with ideas wildly above their station, they’re trying their best at amateur aviation. But watch them when they’re distant and high, using momentum’s speed to fall, and you’ll realise extreme descent is their true airborne call. Seeing them soundlessly ride the downward current’s flow, suddenly they look born to fly, elegant and graceful from far below.
The schools are back, leaving beauty spots free so we drive to the coast for seaside therapy. Black sand marbles golden in abstract, flowing shapes and the currents within me shift with the push and pull of the waves. A sand piper plays for laughs, scuttling absurd little shows while I delight to reunite the beach with my shoe-freed toes. The gulls cry a perfect soundtrack as I breathe deep salty bliss, feeling my inner oceans calm while sea and shore gently kiss.
In my hand I hold a maybe future tree, a perhaps full forest of oaken possibility. All contained in the potential of a tiny acorn, dappled dreams and towering shade waiting to be born. This one is alone among thousands of fragmented shards that the leaping woodland warriors saw fit to discard, having eaten their fill and scurried on to find more, reducing rooting prospects on the earthen floor. I gently drop my green survivor back, and hope it will one day grow to wave tomorrow’s broad branches over me as I return to walk below.
In the season of seed it seems right to write a verse on the five magic ways seeds use to disperse… the first way they scatter is through gravity’s pull, the second is through birds and critters eating till full. The most dramatic way is when they explode by force, but drifting on the wind also works well of course. Lastly some use water and it’s transporting flow: and that, my friend, is the five ways they go.
If I were a goosander living the river dream, I would fly to beat the current then land and drift downstream. But I’d never be as happy as in my younger days when I’d snoozily drifted safe above the babbling waves, nestled on my mother’s back gliding great distance effortlessly, experiencing the high life with no work required from me. I think after that beginning even flying might seem a chore, while doing my own swimming would be a total bore!
Whenever the waysides fill with seed heads and teasels, I half expect to come across paint pots and easels, so strong is their connection to lessons in art and a succession of teachers trying to impart the beautiful way they display texture and shape, the perfect still life subjects their arrangements make. The hours went slow trying to echo them on paper, and I spent most of the time talking to my neighbour. I still can’t capture Autumn’s emblems in charcoaled lines but I have learned to recognise them as treasured finds. I bring them indoors and group their stems in jars with flair, enjoying their finery now, and remembering then and there.
Disturbing the peace, at first they’re heard not seen, like the dissonant honking of competing car horns caught in angry confrontation somewhere in the next village. And then they fall quiet overhead, their swift soaring image conflicting with their previous sound, a graceful ticking yes in the sky, flying in perfect formation as if unity and close co-ordination were the only things on their minds. The perfect team, using the air and its slip streams to common purpose, they sweep on in silent, consistent shape. But once out of sight, synchronised motion is replaced again by cacophonous commotion, and I can’t help thinking, despite every analogy, that the goose at the back is protesting the route.
It’s way too light in the early morning to expect to find a bat gently snoring, but sure enough from the edge of the green pot, one is hanging fast asleep as if it forgot to follow its colony to more private climes, where all is shadowed and safe from daylight shine. We get close enough to marvel at tiny feet holding firm with so much more weight hanging down under them. We wonder if our bat will sleep till night’s cover returns but it wakes, stretches, scratches and quickly learns that it isn’t quite where it would like to nap all day, so it takes off during breakfast, and flies fast away.
We find a delicious recipe for hedgerow cake, which we cannot resist trying to make. So we climb the hills and scour the wayside for brambles, getting stung, scratched and temporarily entangled with the bushes that bear the confection we need to make the wild concoction we long to eat. And even though my hands are scarred and raw, tinged with purple that wasn’t there before, it was worth all the effort and the prickling thorns to slowly forage for a beautiful black store, and to enjoy the slowing, calming sensation of picking the ingredients for a new creation. We return laden with piles of juicy loot, mix the sweet batter, then add our fruit, and when it’s all baked, iced and served it feels so satisfyingly well deserved… but shhh, we picked enough to make more with nothing like the work it took before. And I suspect I’ll still enjoy the next one immensely, even without picking one single blackberry!
The first mornings of September feel just like that, with clear blue skies, low golden light, and crisp air that smells of fresh beginnings, carrying with it the always remembered expectation of brand new exercise books and shiny, sharpened pencils. The dew is so heavy it glimmers like frost and even though it’s decades since my terms began, I still feel I must be back to school soon. Focus and purpose pervade the day, the chilling air forcing a final goodbye to summer, and a growing acceptance that as the students return, so the swallows must leave again too.
The first Discovery was crisp and sweet, a tangy, tasty orchard-plucked treat. I eye the rest of the pile with tingling tongue, apple season has only just begun. Fruit bowl, fridge, cupboard and table we’ll find as much space as we’re able to fill with stocks of ripened fare to feast on, freeze, stew and share. But for now, even in this first crunch’s savour, it’s all here distilled – pure September flavour.
I’m still watching for the green to turn, but warm Autumn colours already burn in the shimmering flames of the first fire to cosy the house since last winter. Outside the blaze hasn’t reached the woods and there’s no golden glamour to compensate for the gusting cold and greying skies that steal sunshine memories as summer dies. But here inside, all is promise and premonition, as wild dancing colour draws us in and on to picture titian trees and hear crunching leaves, anticipating frosts and firework bursts by blazing bonfires, holding mulled wine in thick-gloved hands. So much of the coming season is felt now, prefigured in this first amber shining, as we sit in the living room glow and wait for the world to bronze beyond the grate.
Old Spring Wood seemed quiet, still and empty of all life but the trees and me walking under them in peace. No bird song or greetings from people or dogs, just the trees and me walking under them at ease. When suddenly, like electricity vibrating in the air I’m surrounded by loud thrumming all around, everywhere. The source? Invisible though I look in every direction. The result? An incomparably unnerving sensation. If I didn’t know better I’d suspect some kind of haunting, but the reality is actually almost as daunting. There must be thousands of them above me, wasps or bees, hidden swarms gathering en masse in the canopy of trees. I speed up my pace, feeling considerably on edge till I’m out through the gate and past the boundary hedge. Pleased to be back on to safer, silent ground, I walk on in relief, trying to process what I found. But the next time I return to brave Old Spring Wood, all is calm and tranquil, sounding vacant as it should.
Four cabbage white babies crawl in a line, eating the mattress on which they also lie, while another in its adult shape flutters near to me and I hope to myself that they don’t completely eat the lily pads and flowers I was counting on for lunch, after all, they’re not the only ones who like to munch on peppery salad leaves and bright orange blooms, so I hope they move on from my nasturtiums soon!
Caught, held, arrested in flight, a wispy thistle angel breezily alights. Guardian wings cradle round, protecting tiny, precious seed, vow to carry it far on the wind, to serve its growing need. I place it on the table by the open door, it flies away to freedom, just as before.
The leaves are still green but the signs are everywhere, from the crisping air of morning to countless seeds in the dog’s hair! Summer’s handing over, ticking off her final tasks, while Autumn is impatient to begin making his mark. The lights will change soon to sheen the world amber red, the gorgeous green of summer retiring to her bed. But the wheel keeps turning and what is lost will be found as the seasons shift and shimmer and the last comes back around.
Wings too wet and heavy to flit away, a peacock butterfly spends half the day sunbathing its splendour on the garage wall until it’s confident it will flutter, not fall. Then with a flourish it rises high dry enough to fly enough to reach the sky. I miss it gently fanning its beautiful wings but receive a new gift when the song thrush sings.
The news is in, the heather’s out so we drive to the tops to see the fresh made purple hill-waves of the deep, wide moorland sea. Vast expanses painted in flower stretch blooms to the edge of sight, entrancing even those familiar with this annual summer delight. I try to hold it in memory, dales dyed their best for the country shows, but can’t recapture top of the world splendour once I’m back in the valley below. I wish it would last forever but then it wouldn’t be the same, I couldn’t chase its beauty in a yearly fleeting game. So I’ll just cherish this moment, breathe deep the brief lilac haze, and console myself when it goes over, it will return again to re-amaze.
I’m sure, like me, you’ve had those days when you wish you could be, someone or something else different from yourself entirely: to fly and soar on the wind as a bird free and high, to be your carefree dog as he sleeps by the fireside. But I must confess to feeling more than a little surprised by the metamorphosis-seeking Cabbage White that I spied clinging with wings closed green to a tall vegetable stem, as if what it perceived to be the envy of all men was becoming a corn on the cob! For twenty four hours it paused there quite still, but all the wishing in the world could not fulfil its desire to experience another’s life for a day, so it gave up, ascended, and fluttered away.
It must be hard to be a mint’s flower, constantly overlooked when its leaves are eagerly sought out and celebrated in recipe books. For centuries the herb’s been picked to soothe, freshen and flavour, while its blossom has remained passed over and out of favour. It’s hard when no one appreciates just how prettily you bloom, even if they’re always thankful for their infinite uses for you! So when you sauce your lamb, brush your teeth or drink mint tea, remember the beautiful petals that ensured there was more seed.
After the rain, the ground is soaked with rose confetti and fallen fuchsia bells. Heavy rudbeckia heads half collapse themselves down like folded umbrellas, still dripping wet. And the garden smells of spice as moisture polishes the curry leaves to sing their flavour through the air so deliciously you can almost taste it, after the rain.
I saw the strangest bush when walking along the track, its blooms looking for all the world like an opened pack of those retro snowball biscuits that came in pink and white, transporting me back to Eighties childhood treat delights. I ask myself what other deja vu flowers I might find? – midget gems and party rings dancing through my mind…
The evenings are chillier now, dusk creeping into night in front of us long before it’s time for bed, so we retreat to the sofa to watch whodunnits on the TV rather than sitting outside instead. I am gripped by the murder plot but just as hooked on a second screen – the window to outside’s darkening activity where, drawn to the light of flickering flames from our candles, two darting bats weave their own mystery. The house in the film is turreted and there is an unusual blending of worlds, as if the garden here is becoming there, and the night winged creatures painting black on midnight blue so close to us might actually be an imagined, storied pair.
This is the first year I’ve looked around carefully enough to see, after honeysuckle finishes flowering come bursts of bright rubies. Fragrance fades, petals fall, but shining in their stead, clusters of radiant berries adorn it with new found brilliant red. It’s a simple, obvious picture, but no less hopeful, profound and true, when what you’re known for fades, unexpected fruit still comes from you. So trust in the turning season, trust even as blooms spoil and spill, without the loss of what is, tomorrow’s promise cannot be fulfilled.
Down in the garden, in the raised veg beds, some unexpected blooms are raising their heads. A florist would look blank if you asked for them there – in fact that would be quite a fun little dare! But trust me, they’re beautiful despite their progeny, these new Charlotte blossoms, shining fine for me. Paper white petals with a yellow trumpet heart, perhaps it’s time potato flowers got to play their part in the bouquets we choose, arrange and display, why disqualify them because of their humble name?!
Every evening when the light begins to dim, the sun is dipping and the blackbird sings, one after another, a troop of sleepy blue tits come, filing themselves under the fascia board, one by one. How they slot in such a tiny space I never will know, but I love to sit and watch them as they go to rest their weary feathers, already lost in reverie while the blackbird sings lullabies from the sycamore tree.
Mesmerised, in a Monday morning trance at the whizzing, spinning butterflies’ dance. Courting conducted at a dizzying speed, gyroscoping with fluttering ease, tumbling, rolling over and over, high above, now down near the clover, a two spoked Catherine wheel sparkling bright, flickering, shimmering gymnasts of light. I must walk on and begin my day but I take to heart their sense of play.
Daisies, daisies, give me your answer do, why can’t I ever walk past without stopping to smile at you? I think it’s those summer lunchtimes sat out on the long school grass, picking petals to predict romance, so happy not to be in class. Stringing your stems in garlands round ankles, wrists and necks, of course that’s why, years later, I never can forget the feel of cheer and charm as you scatter your smiles at me, even when I’m walking at speed and seemingly far too busy to stop and sit and play again at lovelorn games and daisy chains.
The wrens in my garden are tiny hula girls who hop into the Fuchsia and set it all a whirl with quivering and jiggling as they hunt among its leaves, unaware of their performance as they retrieve bugs for their breakfast, for lunch and for tea, an accidental dinner show at nine, twelve and three!
Landscape, habitat, historic local fauna and flora are all interrupted by escapee garden explorers. It’s important to strive for balanced biodiversity but I can’t help the childish rush of delight when I see a burst of exotic dragon heads painting the hedgerow red when really there should only be brambles there instead. Against the grey of dry stone wall and the constant green of field, fell and all there is something gleeful that always transpires when I see such vivid blooms of crimson fire – be it legitimate joy or half guilty pleasure – I still believe I’m finding wayside treasure.
This song’s for the sparrows, perennially underestimated jewels who dart and dive and flap and squawk, under incomprehensible mob rules. Daredevil kamikazes almost brushing the hairs on your head, little gutter acrobats drinking up rain and scavenging for bread. Disruptors of ordered vegetable beds, with a taste for bathing in soil, who use the potting shed’s asphalt roof to exfoliate tummy and tail. Shakers of Viburnum branches, huge gatherings full of clamour, making up with plenty of drama for all they lack in glamour. Balancing on bamboo pole ends, on top of the bean teepee, extreme perchers excelling at what looks impossible to me. Why are they so dismissed, barely given a second look, when their characterful shenanigans deserve a story book? Perhaps it’s time to make them heroes of a famous tale or two, or at the least to underline they’re well worth bird watching too.
I will sit at the foot of the old ash tree and open my heart to the sound of the Song Thrush weaving its melody – sweet, lilting and loud. Each year that passes, I will hope to hear how it lengthens its narrative of notes, telling new tales of winter survived, stretching cadences like long summer days. Perhaps I too will learn his craft, building my stories year by year. Perhaps I too will find fresh notes for others to sit and hear.
When you lay out your welcome mat and fling your back door wide, be careful because you might not know quite who you’re inviting inside! Some guests will hop into the kitchen, confused about where to feed fledglings, others will fly all through the house on wildly misdirected wings. Then a cricket might just sit boldly on your actual welcome mat, leaving you protesting, “I didn’t mean quite that!”.
When summer’s in its swan song and August’s long begun, a strange melancholy can beckon with the end of holiday fun. That’s when you need reminding Autumn brings her own bliss, look to the hedgerows dear one, there’s something you shouldn’t miss. Search for the delicate white, find the first black beads to bite, savour the sweet tanged delight, let flavour win your internal fight. Believe the promise of more that’s coming, welcome the herald of colour and fruit, soon trees, not just brambles, will be laden with delicious new beauty to salute.
I was just so glad when the first gladioli grew their stems full straight and high and broadcast their blooms in beautiful hues making perfect the present-bulbs I gave to you.
And it makes me so glad that this wonder is real, you bury a knobbly gift and trust its promise fulfils. Weeks and months pass, then when you’ve half forgotten colour unfolds fountains and shines surprise gems.
I always imagined our view unlooked at when we sleep. When we’re not on the terrace and the doors are all locked, while the creeping dark slowly covers the garden in moonlight quiet and makes everything still. Paused. Waiting to be reawakened by opening curtains and doors and human activity restored.
But I was wrong.
Our view is looked at when we sleep by those that scuttle and creep and keep the night watch.
One such creature is covered in spines and has been spied now as he climbs, hauling himself slowly up the steps with splayed flat feet and tiny short legs to snuffle for grubs and evening snacks, to enjoy gazing out before turning on his tracks. Now he descends again, a slinky on the stairs, trotting back happily to his own bed, cosied in under the potting shed.
No, our view is not unlooked at when we sleep, no doubt many more have managed to keep their secret, shadowed prowling unseen while we look away, lost in our dreams – missing seeing, not just the view, but the night watch team and all they do.
Sitting out late, enjoying the light and the delicate breeze of approaching night. The fire pit blazes and up in the skies a feathery cloud blanket lies. All feels protected, charmed – at peace, we listen and look, resting in ease. Then there among the blue and gold, the evening shivers in more cold, and sure enough the blanket shifts into tiny cloud-seeds that start to drift, like a dandelion clock blowing on the wind with time to waste and tales to spin. And all of this beauty whispers to me, “time for bed dear heart, time to sleep”.
Suddenly they’re everywhere with rocket lollipops bright, colour and fragrance luring intoxicated insects to delight. The bush at the end of the lawn teems with hustle and bustle, butterflies, bees and stranged-wingees all competing for who has the muscle to down the very best nectar and pollen before closing time comes and bloom ends, and spears bend, and flowers spend their last drops of the good stuff all out and down to the ground. Even today in the pouring rain, Buddleia’s open to visitors again. A bumble bee looking for cover hangs on upside-down and under; yesterday’s lollipop fast becoming umbrella – the perfect shelter from inclement weather. So if you want to draw a crowd and do not mind your buzzing loud, do the tiny world a favour, plant a stash of their favourite flavour.
I open my curtains at six fifty nine to sixteen jackdaws on the telegraph line. A group stake out, every eye focused down on me, staring and cawing intermittently. Corvid surveillance causes me some unease so I run downstairs to make the morning teas!
Don’t just stop to smell the roses, stop to smell it all: fresh mown grass, new cut hay, the tumbling scents of honeysuckle and jasmine stars. Stop to see as well. Pause your walk to watch a wagtail’s bobbing dance, to laugh at sheepish grins, applaud a strutting stoat and gasp at kestrel dives. Stop to touch the lupin’s furry seed pods, feel for yourself a cleaver’s stick, and welcome tall bracken tickling your face. Stroke the horses when their heads rise and peer over the wall, stay, talk awhile softly to each and every creature you meet, enjoying their wordless replies. Yes, absolutely stop, park your car in the lane, get out and cherish the chance to remain longer and linger at the sight of a rare brown hare running or sitting beyond the field’s barred gate, or as a moorland sweeping barn owl lands on his own pausing post and locks his piercing eyes with yours. Stop to listen too, to hear every birds’ song, from the sparrow’s chatter to the blackbird’s virtuosity and the curlew’s haunting call. Then look up again and truly notice each and every jewel like bird that graces a tree or visits the garden. And if you hear the kingfisher call on the winding river path, just wait, always wait, for you might just glimpse a flash of brilliant flight. Don’t just stop to smell the roses, take time to breathe and be in the woodland, the water and the wide open spaces long enough to receive the wild, unpredictable gifts of God that grow and roam and are – here for you to find.
They’re back again and I know it’s more customary to sing and serenade their colours and revelry, but haven’t you noticed they’re absolutely in gangs, mobs of seed spitting, bird feeder disrupting young lads. I love them, I do, they deserve descriptive emotion but before I can get there I’m laughing at the commotion. Finch faces, finch faces what are you so busy conniving? Golden but mischievous – darling bright scoundrels thriving.
The river path is lush now, growing high verdant green, and every several steps fireworks explode between. Caught mid detonation, flower-sparks shine, a dazzling scattering of stars frozen still in time. Strange to explain what I hardly believe, these breath-taking bursts are simply called ‘hogweed’.
What else should I serenade on Yorkshire’s day besides the bright rose, the white rose that represents her name? But so many more beauties come to the fore, the rivers, the dry-stone walls, the blustrous, broad-placed moor. Ten years I have lived here now, under her spell, and I still can’t find sufficient words to halfway tell how I love her with her heather, and her ever-changing skies, how she’s home and half-heaven in my awe struck eyes. I will walk out my devotion on her coast and up her hills, each step a caress as I explore and fulfil my promise to both of us to grow to know her well, woodland and wildlife, beck, field and fell.
We set off round the reservoir track, intent on a catch up natter, suddenly three are joined by a fourth keen to add more chirrup and chatter. Little interloping cricket, be careful where you leap, we are pleased to meet you but we have secrets to keep. Besides this seems a more dangerous route, you’ll need to watch for every flying boot. Jump to the left now, back to the grass, we’ll agree to let your intrusion pass.
What is smaller than a wren? A fledgling wren for sure! I saw for myself by the river, I’d never met one before. Like a furious, fluffy pompom, squawking in the tree, frantic because its mother was on the other side of me. I didn’t want to prolong its panic so I quickly carried on but was gladdened by glimpse of small stubby tail and miniature raucous song.
The wooded track at the end of the village is steep and narrow to climb, growing closer still now as late July bracken towers over brambles that trip and prick. The dog tunnels under and we, like jungle explorers feel our way through the dense curtains of foliage all the way up to the top to tread the lighter green of grassy sheep fields, and see the far, rolling hills. We reach the farm track where suddenly, a riot of roses spill their friendly colour all over a dry stone wall, like a chocolate box picture of Summer hedgerow bliss. And I smile as I remember how the struggle to ascend is always worth it somehow.
We know his game for sure now – the shy retiring woodland buck, for we’ve caught him in the act. We’ve seen him leave his calm, canopied retreat, leaping up the track and back to the fray and fracas of warren life, the endless demands of the drove. I wonder how often he sneaks away, how long he gets for this downtime, and if the other rabbits know his secret shaded peace.
I wish I could conjure words to set the song of water, but no string of sibilant sounds can capture the constancy of luscious liquid white noise. Always by the river, flow serenades me still, whether carried in rush, ripple or fall, its noise quiets my soul. It’s the same by the sea, with the crash and the draw, Iike a raging lullaby that storms and soothes all fear away.
The first time I saw a mole I was beyond surprised, for they’d been so much bigger in my childhood mind’s eye. Pictures didn’t give me scale and stories evoked a sense of a creature more a rabbit’s size than of such diminutive length! And now the mole has shocked again with new biographical information, it turns out to have a super power – it’s a complete digging sensation! A full twenty metres each day they tunnel with tiny searching claws, just imagine how far you’d get as a human, if their talent was yours! Strange to think of them under us, practically whizzing around, subterranean superheroes hiding obscurely underground.
I watch a kestrel plummet from soaring high to valley’s depth – a staggering daredevil drop – and I wonder, is it all about the hunting? Or do they also feel the whoosh and thrill of flipping stomach when they fall? Like the rush of roller coaster dips that leave you hungry for the next ride.
When setting off across the path to make her home on better turf, I don’t imagine this tiny snail thought she’d be leaving earth. To keep her safe from tramping feet, we momentarily lifted her high, what a change from what she’d planned – temporary housing in the sky! We landed her back on her previous course, grounded and safe on pastures new, they say moving house is stressful, I hope it wasn’t traumatic too!
The fields are dressed for a summer fete, everyday green transformed by July best bonnets bright into rainbow-rich delight. And among all the bobbing, chattering heads, the Meadowsweet grows tall – offering its candy floss to the flowers, and to all.
I follow the footsteps of botanical explorers and press my fresh picked fern into deep Prussian blue. I trust the sun, the waiting, the water… and marvel how, with photography at my fingertips, this rediscovered technique of picture painting play can bring me utter joy. It grows now forever, an immortalised white fern on a cyan fabric square. But also yields its life, green to gradual curling, gingering, gently -furling – a perfect specimen captured in a small glass bottle. What was it like when this was newly all there was – great brave science recording with accuracy for perpetuity brand new exotic species from far flung lands? It must have seemed, as it half does now, something faintly fantastical, beauty, form, life – arrested on a page by powerful noon-day light.
Far from the colony, away from warren bustle, the woodland buck goes hunting all by himself, alone. He only knows what he forages for here, whether choice fallen fruits or simply peace not found at home. We see him often now exploring dappled dank forest floor, at ease with us watching him despite his introverted ways.
The light has dipped, the sun is low, invisible to us now. But somehow, in a rain free sky, a full and faultless cloudbow arcs high and muted bright above the gloaming light. In all my years of sunsets and rainbows, this is something I’ve never seen, and I linger in the garden to gaze at it longer, unsure if I’ll ever catch anything like it again. You never reach the end of creation’s wonders however long you live, no matter how far you explore; endless possibilities open, limitless beauties surprise and stagger as you walk your way over our broad green-brown-grey earth, and live out your days under its shifting grey-blue-pink skies.
Suddenly the potting shed transforms to Asian arbour as myriad jasmine stars begin to come to flower. I make a daily pilgrimage to breathe in their scent, green tea and sticky rice playing happily in my head. Upstairs in the bathroom draw, a Yardley soap with this essence is waiting to echo jasmine’s joy when summer’s no longer present.
Red sky at night, everyone’s delight. No matter what it foretells of promised sunnier spells, the magic’s in the moment where fuchsia and magenta brush and streak the setting gold. Never mind your landscape, your native fauna and flora, all of us share sunset gifts with their wide, bold wonder. I like that sense of unity – wherever your patch of sky, you’ll receive precious evenings draped in this vibrant high.
Today was a duet of sunshine and showers, alternating soakings over several hours. First one, then the other, now both in time together, a swirling, whirling dance of light counterpointing weather. Black cloud backdrops make for brighter spotlights on the hills, damp drizzle downpours all the more serving to fulfill the sweet feel of warmth as the choreography begins directing sunlight surges to drift and filter in. Down by the river is like a hothouse at Kew, close and heady with heavy mid afternoon dew. I choose to play along and get thoroughly drenched, then sit writing in dazzle on the swing bridge bench.
Not once, but twice this week now, I’ve spotted a spotted red bead against all conceivable odds among the long meadow grass. This second cousin of the first displayed pure acrobatics, ascending and descending green sheer vertical poles. The grass was dancing wildly as trees in gale force wind and it made me marvel still more at this ladybird circus act. When you appreciate the scale, this is extreme dare-devil sport – talent and technique shining hidden among the long meadow grass.
Today I saw a kestrel seeming floating on the breeze, looking, for all the world, totally at ease. But this sight transpired to be optical illusion, for the bird was not still but in constant motion. When they suspend they are really flying swiftly, matching speed to opposing currents completely. How do they judge an equation so precise – let alone while looking so far below for mice? Science and sorcery meet among the thermal winds, while we drive past and on towards town and prosaic things.
It was my turn in the bathroom but when I arrived a tiny creeping creature was already inside. I tried to reason with him saying, “Mr Woodlouse, if you want to take a shower, obey the rules of this house. You’ll need to wait in line, and when your time comes, you can’t share with a woman, that simply is not done.” Of course he ignored me, but he did go on his way, so my ablutions were kept private, hip, hip, hip hooray!
Like a needle in a haystack, the chance of seeing her there, one tiny red bead in the long meadow grass. But I spotted her spots and was instantly a child, compelled to feel her crawl through the blades of my fingers. Ladybird, ladybird, what a treat to find you, a tiny little gem on a weekday morning. You took some convincing to go back to your true stems, was it fun to meet a lady-human in the long meadow grass?
It’s funny who you meet on a Sunday morning amble, neighbours, tourists, friends, and then close by the brambles, a tiny trotting stoat with little white throat and vivid titian coat struts out into the road. It doesn’t stop to chat, it’s gone without a greeting, but it lights up my day, a brief but brilliant ginger meeting.
All across the meadow and down by the river, ringlets are rising in chocolate hued quivers. We try to get the angle right to find and study their rings, but they won’t stay still enough – they’re intent on flightier things.
The path was as wet as the river when we still set out to walk, intent on blowing out cobwebs and starting weekend talk. All was streaky watercolour green, everything leaking, seeping its seams, smudging and fast becoming indiscriminate haze. When suddenly, all in a rush, a tiny cobalt dart swiftly brushed the water to make a work of art. Its dazzling brilliance shone then, as quick, was gone. And we stood in the rain, unaware of its soaking, lost in kingfisher awe – a turquoise gift-wrapped moment.
Peppered round the dale, gardens, verges, moor, woods, river are little purple forests growing tall and fine. Miniature Scots pines swaying in the breeze, bending all their strength to ring their merry berry bells. Splashes of bright colour that always bring delight, whether weed or wild they’re welcome with me.
But who was the thinker and what was the thought that decided foxes’ fingers would fit in tiny petal sleeves? Foxgloves seem more suited to forming party hats for stoats but I’m not sure such renaming will catch on with many folks… So I’ll just allow my sketch to celebrate their beauty, and leave the etymology to heritage and dictionary!
Deep in the woods, among the dank of the dale, grow some curious fungi who have learnt how to scale the heights of ash and beech to spread their creeping reach into little elven shelving, and mushroom moths unfurling, all green streaked white and beige against brown, forest green and sage. Some even splay like goblin palms as if stretching out with no qualms about touching passing strangers to dissemble and disarm. I expect my fairy toadstools to dance in circles on the ground, but I’m quietly being enchanted by the bracket fungus I have found.
When I want a drink, I just turn on the tap. But nothing so pedestrian awaits this sparrow acrobat. Up on the conservatory roof, legs spread wide as a giraffe, he tilts and turns full upside down to take a simple draught – squeezing head through tiny gap, a limbo dancing ninja, goodness me, what circus act will he conjure during dinner?!
Is there anything more perfect than the moment I see the first sweet peas of summer winking back at me? This year they’re by the wayside, growing wild and free, a cacophony of colour tumbling over hedge and tree. They feel like garden runaways scaling fence, breaking boundary, I wonder where they’ll steal to next to share their cheer and glee.
Heaven sent moist bracken scent to stir my sense of wild. Childhood southern seaside chines in adult northern moorland wide chime, converge, collide. This is how adventure smells, the quest – descent or climb, England a borderless glasshouse, an exotic landscape to find.
Well intentioned phrases say, “look up”, “lift your head”, but sometimes there is beauty in looking down instead. Saturday’s walk was wet, my eyes were on the ground, I couldn’t see the stunning view but there was still treasure to be found. Strewn across the track, mixed with downtrodden grass, a thousand sugar sprinkles, discarded petal stars. Sweet fragrance in the air tells tales of their descent – It’s elderflower umbels for which they were meant. But tumbled here beneath me, each individual flower shines with a new and broken beauty those on the tree cannot find. And it makes me remember the brave wonder of this world, where the shattered and battered often transform into pure gold. So perhaps don’t be frightened to turn your gaze right down, there among the debris is something fresh and profound.
Yesterday was drenching but it still felt strange to see a heron walking like a person, up the lane. Far away from river, still not that close to beck, impossible to fathom what was going through its head. It was too far in front to photograph the stroll, which was disappointing as it looked rather droll. Best of all was the point it stopped to pause and wait, craning neck just high enough to snoop over Peter’s front gate!
The wind is rough, the thermals unsure, and stretched upon the wing, close to the house Red Kite rises and turns, is tossed, thrown and spun. A bird so often high and mighty is like its paper alias today, as if at mercy of current and string, as likely under as over – all spin. Less flying than surfing, more suspended than soaring, a wild adventure ride, Creature in its element, or element in its element? I’m left asking as both disappear.
Out on the terrace, near the curry leaves, a flower comes to bloom, delighting to deceive. Nestled at its heart among lily orange petals bright, an apparent chocolate truffle offers up a trickster’s delight!
Goodnight gorgeous gloaming, you perfect evening lantern show. Thanks for flooding my bedroom with your magic golden glow. My west window’s a portal to time between times’ shine, to somewhere more than sunset I ache to capture, keep as mine. It feels wrong to close my curtains in the presence of such light but despite summer’s solstice, I need it to be night. So goodnight gorgeous gloaming with your halcyon hints of glory, return soon so I can climb the stairs and retrace my steps into story.
There is a fragrant type of rose I don’t often see, it grows in Irene’s garden, its name’s not known to me. But two years now in June when she’s come round for tea, she’s brought us its flowers in a little gift posy. This year when she left, I remembered its story, how all that beauty and perfume found a second round of glory. And though I knew from last time the recipe would come through, it still felt girlish make-believe to mix a petal strewn pink stew! But when sugared water plays with rose, perfect scent transcends its sense, and magic liquid Turkish delight pours out delicious decadence.
A rustle in the leaves nestled near the track then suddenly we see him, almost lost in brown on brown. A mini mountain climber hauling up his hill, crawling rhythmic, almost vertical till suddenly he’s still. Pace and progress all forgotten when he senses us loom large, he freezes, hoping hard to merge with deep rich soil. We recommence our walk so he can reach his peak but remember him all day, the woodland toad we chanced to meet.
High up in my valley lies a secret second dale, its river is a beck, its hills mere bank sides steep. Gladed and shaded and overrun with moss, every inch of it fairied green as if time itself got lost. This is where I climb to walk my thoughts all out. I leave them in the rock pools that break the water as it falls.
My warren watching on the field side track is rudely interrupted by the sudden blur and buzz of a little orange helicopter darting through the tree canopy, like a tiny drunken pilot is testing out his moves. Unexpected colour, iridescent in the sun, demands my attention rises above hillside hopping fun. Spot it if you can, before it speeds away, the first dragonfly of summer dived across my path today.
This is how you know a fern is not bracken, its leaves flow from the ground in an emerald fountain. Everything unfurling from each single one was squeezed into its frond before the stretching was begun. I too will seek to trust this inside out becoming, leave behind sideways growth, sprawling wide and running.
What miracle magic is this to take a black spiked bug and transform crawling ignominy into something like fairy dust? The jewel patterned Peacock takes wing, fluttering with finesse and spin. Does its memory, however faint, remember the days before paint transformed jet black to vibrant hue and lifted it bodily to bird’s eye view?
Strung across the sycamore stump and among holly and hawthorn hedge, are bunches of pale fairy lights bobbing and twinkling between the green. Almost always just out of my reach, but determined to follow its climb, I stand on tiptoe beneath, a seeker of perfect highs. Gently bending a string towards me, sweet intoxication is mine, all at once, delicately hushed, in the garden, posh hand creams and candles fill my mind. I wonder if I’ll ever find myself rewilded quite nearly enough for nature’s purest pleasures to stop reminding me of man-made stuff. It’s a beautiful, layered sensation, all that luxury echoing round, but it leaves me quietly curious can true honeysuckle highs still be found?
This grass heart of unmown lawn left to meadow is a little love song calling to every bumbling bee. Linger among my wildflower petals, feast on their pollen sweet, hover and buzz all around me, you’re welcome to gather and greet.
The river path by us winds narrow and gnarly, so watch your step as well as the wild – especially where, among silt and stone, tree toes cross the path like splayed little crow claws, moving at wood stretching slow towards – not beside – the water. For I can’t help but think, even mighty oaks wince when careless booted walkers tread and trample on their feet!
Headed towards the river path through a field of unremarkable grass, I am on my way to somewhere when here transcends just route to pass. One step I’m not paying any attention, the next stops me as if at destination, compelled to pause, to better drink the scent of summer cordial fizzing in the air. Moving forward it fades, as quickly as it arrested, just like the sudden felt enchantment of beautiful new ideas, fragrances whispering “write me”, lost to the wind if not caught.
If strength is in numbers, today I learned Britain doesn’t belong to us, but to the tiny field voles who live beneath the grass. Many millions of mini mammals, an army of blackberry hunters, mining underground networks, predating kings and conquerors. I wonder what they make of us giant ground shakers above? I wonder if Victorious Voletannia is our island’s true nation state?
The performance starts two days late, but oh, when it comes, it astounds. Tumultuous timpani rolls open, then the plucking of rain begins; each staccato strike bouncing high from every newly made instrument with echoing, ringing springs. Now the wind roars in, the gutters squeak, and hail smacks the windows hard. And here inside, we listen in awe to virtuoso weather as constant crescendo serenades the valley and drowns out all domesticity.
A serendipitous moment, when something in nature mirrors another, familiar shape and all at once takes on all its meaning and metaphors. This time it’s a forgotten fragment, just a piece of discarded rose, easy to miss in bank-side bramble, but plucked out in triumph by you. “It’s a perfect heart!” you say, and I think to myself as you hold it – this is like my heart, petal, cup it gently, but safely secure for it’s a fleeting, fragile-edged thing, more flower than flame after all. Cherish its lingering fragrance, keep company with its translucent beauty, I trust you with it completely for as long as its bloom remains.
The first time I saw one for real, it perched on my shoulder. I was transfixed. Enraptured. So proud. The photo still projects that inner moment out and makes me smile a mirror image back to my smaller self some three decades on. It felt so wild, I remember the thrill, even though now I know the same engineered touch as tame. But all the more special, my history here, when I come less close, but seem more close, in those wondrous moments of chance encounter. A penetrating stare, a back garden pass, a maybe glimpse in the field. Low flight in moor’s dusk light as I drive by in twilight, soft landing on ruined tree. I’ll never see them enough to get over their singular rush every time they grace my world.
Who choreographs this wild wind dance to secret, silent score? Their seemingly effortless dramatics in synchronised floating acrobatics deserve a standing ovation. The near misses, the close crosses, the warp, the weft, the scatter. The duets, the trios, the whole troupe in full flow, the joy, the high jinx, the wonder. From premiere in May to September’s curtain call day, you’ll find me here, sat in awe. Lingering to watch, night after night, this dazzling aerial ballet.
It’s the zing of childhood glee in pure nostalgic taste. Last year’s shared crop was eaten like candy and candied to jams of deep purple red and frog spawn green. But this year, this year the gift has grown. It’s smaller for now but rooted and rising… a tantalising taste of what’s to come – an old fashioned sweet shop on my own back lawn! Already now, a leafy hand opens, offering me its enticing treat, the first, fine, plump little gooseberry, a glorious, gorgeous gobstopper fruit.
I think I’d get indigestion if I ate my muesli while swinging rapidly, dramatically, always to and fro. But the bird on my neighbours’ feeder is an extreme sport kind of eater. He munches unperturbed, seemingly undisturbed, as if it causes him no commotion to be flung in ocean like motion. But I suppose if you’re already good at drilling your head into wood, your view of a breakfast swing is a much more causal thing. So rock on woody, rock on, enjoy your fly-through brunch, I’ll see you again for peekaboo round the silver birch over lunch.
Newly planted, there’s no hint yet of tall tiered colour and carousels of bright, bold bonnets. But long before ruby-red carmine, nestled among the still-green, a perfectly centred aqua jewel – sun-polished to reflect sky’s blue – turns a humble multi-pointed leaf-star to a fleeting new shape of flower power before silently, secretly, stealing full away.
You’re right I should be protected, it’s overdue time for some serious alarm, but let me remind you I’m more easily adapted, than fatally, finally harmed. I’ll still find my ways of growing, despite your UPVC, I’ll break through your concrete with petals, you’ll struggle to ever tame me. You’ll find me when least expected, asserting myself in new ways, remember I was here before you, I’ve weathered countless days. I’m not suggesting complacent inaction, but I am reminding you to hope, my true present and potential future are way beyond your scope!
Dappled light plays on the path, casting spots, shining shifting beams. First a robin glows in the limelight, now holly leaves gleam newly mossy-bright. December reflections are conjured in June with subtle tricks of light, the now merging with yesterdays and tomorrows as yet unknown. The path’s such a threadbare metaphor, light breaking through such a tired idea, yet they’re inescapably, effervescently embodied on a day, on a walk, like today’s. I am moving through sunlight in shadow, following hope as illumined green. I am breathing the sweet scents of journey, I am here and not where I have been.
Double, double toil and trouble, notice stagnant drain bubble. Amphibious limbs stirring the stew can’t leap out or break through plastic pipe to find relief from impending, final sleep, till… suddenly lowered in kindly stoop a ladle comes, full size of the soup. Deus ex machina! Not a moment to soon, frog soars to safety on flying spoon.
Seven seconds of moment if that at eight fifty five one Wednesday evening. Right time, right place, thank the neighbours, he’s suddenly there, tucked right in close to the bank. Twitching nose up, on high alert to whole river, then gone in ripple of wiggle and shimmer.
Striding over hills, gliding over trees, the carnival arrives as we drink our morning tea. Dragons in our vista, giants tumbling by, a magic, mystery pageant in an English country sky. Early morning adventures while breakfasting in bed, enacting wisest nonsense, six impossibilities in my head.
She wiggles her wings like fluttering eyelashes, all at once playing coy and coquette. He lindy-hops round in eager reply, to the rhythm of silent sound. Choreography rehearsed again the very next day as if this were the right-on hip spot. Dunnocks dance! Come on down! Dazzle us dizzy with your lively jive! Who says you’re just dull, drear brown?
There’s no appointment in the diary. But here he is on a Thursday morning, marching across the top of my screen demanding top spot on my task list. I squint to better assess his identity, but he comes from some tiny, alien outside world and I have never seen his orange hue or diminutive shape before. He is clearly here on long distance reconnaissance, a miniature discoverer bent on conquering Inside. Nose close, I see him lift his tiny front legs to his face, washing, or feeding, perhaps even waving, who’s to say? When I next look up from my words he’s gone, presumably finished with living room circumnavigation, maybe he’s now bravely claiming the hall.
It’s back again, pressing pause on life al fresco, putting a dampener on day three of thirty appointed wild.
Cats and dogs, drizzle and mizzle – we need the whole soggy symphony of words to shower down when we’re so often left bemoaning it in fifty flinty tones of exasperated grey!
Drat that smudger of pictures, the infamous drowner of parties. Blast that endless wet-wiper-outer of best laid plans!
But today, instead, I grant it absolution; re-name it simply, relief, and secretly, gleefully cheer it on: “rain, rain don’t go away don’t wait until another day”
Go on, join the song…
Clap as it waters the garden! Welcome the softening of hard, hard ground! Enjoy it diluting mercury risen and remaining… day after day, in a most un-English way!
Cherish shutting the doors and love living your inside life, set free from the burning compulsion to bask in every moment of rare British sun. Admit you share our natural, national condition – you were actually also quite missing the rain!
All is spring and going, growing gradual fruit… till stop! A sudden surprise shouts bright. What’s this traffic light change among the leaves? Two plump pioneers of summer gleam among the green, scarlet beacons of a nearly season nigh. And quickly June tastes like July; zesty, sweet and juicy red ripe. With one sight, and just one irresistible, little bite, here comes all that flavour zinging and singing – exploding the promise of picnics, parties, schools-out and pimms, of bunting and beaches, and long-lingering evenings, of lanterns, longing and lazy bliss. Here it is all at once now, all together in a rush now – a choice premonition of holiday boldly trespassing my everyday, like the scent of next door’s barbecue or a curlew’s call to the wild.
Hello buttercup, you deserve a closer look. More than cheeky lawn invader or nostalgic chin shine player, you shimmer your own sheen’s song in miniature canary splendour. Now I really see you, little sun, I notice your distinction among your companions as you scatter gladly among the grass in an earthbound constellation. Standing tall, petals splayed fiercely wide and free, you are a five limbed leaper held still in perfect, extended lines. Your head thrown back, abandoned to the sky, as if you had forgotten you were meant to be any sort of cup at all – while each of your neighbours huddles and cuddles her petals close, holding back her own perhaps-dance in reticent, secret possibility.